Newcastle Falcons have made two changes for Friday’s RFU Championship showdown with Leeds Carnegie at Kingston Park (kick-off 8pm).
Carlo del Fava and Mark Wilson start for the first time this term, as the Falcons aim to make it five wins in a row to maintain their lead at the top of the tree.
Italian international del Fava returns to the second-row after a back injury, while Wilson gets the nod in the back-row following stints on the bench.
Falcons boss Dean Richards sticks with the same backline that defeated Cornish Pirates 25-3 at The Mennaye Field last weekend, with promising youngster Joel Hodgson keeping his place at fly-half.
Hodgson partners experienced campaigner Rory Lawson at half-back with goal-kicking sensation Jimmy Gopperth continuing at full-back.
Preparations for the derby clash are in full flow with the club extending the buy one get one free ticket deal to 12 noon tomorrow.
Director of rugby Richards is expecting a stern test from a Leeds outfit that defeated Bristol 50-31 at Headingley on Sunday.
He said: “They were 27-0 up at half-time against Bristol which in effect won them the game and there is no doubt that they have a bit of poise and flair.
“It is interesting to see how they managed to take Bristol apart in the manner that they did. They are pretty strong all over the park and they play with a lot of flair.”
Recalling his derby day experiences during his tenure at Leicester Tigers and Harlequins respectively, Richards added: “Coming from Leicester I know what derbies are all about with teams like Coventry and Northampton who were massive teams in their day and still are.
“When I was down at Quins you had games against London Irish, Saracens and Wasps and they were very special occasions.”
It has been a short turnaround for Richards’ troops, having flown back from their overnight stay in Exeter on Monday. However, Richards insists his side are in tip top shape for the derby duel, saying: “Everything has been fine in terms of preparations as we travelled back on Monday and we are in good shape.
“Of course the weather hasn’t been great this week but we trained on Tuesday at Druid Park so in that respect, again our preparations have not been hampered at all.
“Northumbria University were kind enough to offer their facilities for us to use, but the traffic wasn’t great around the city so we used Druid instead.
“Kingston Park is in perfect condition and I am really looking forward to the game.”
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Jimmy Gopperth, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Ally Hogg (c)
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Jordi Pasqualin, 21 Alex Tait, 22 Jamie Helleur